How to deal with phone snubbing at work

I felt like a skittle between these two people as they swiped away at their phones.

A couple of friends had offered me a free ticket to the theatre and in the 30 minutes before curtain up, all they did was scroll the screens.

Strangely, one of them remarked with a tinge of guilt, “This is must be nice for you, eh. We’re not being very sociable are we?”


Even if you’re lucky enough not to have experienced phone snubbing or ‘phubbing’ as it’s termed, I bet you’ve seen it.

The snub may not be intentional or personal but it can really feel that way.

One study  has shown that this behaviour has a direct negative impact on relationship satisfaction.

What’s really quite odd, though, is that this 2015 research  reveals that even those guilty of the phubbing, found face to face conversations less satisfying but it doesn’t stop them from doing it.

Blimey, us humans, eh? Mad or what.

A 2018 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology pinpointed the negative effects of phubbing. These are the threats to:

  • belongingness
  • self-esteem
  • meaningful existence
  • control

Hence, if you feel a little dejected, as I did when phubbed, then it would be totally justfiied.

Yet, when socially neglected in this way we tend to reach for our phones to fill the void, thus perpetuating the behaviour.


How do you stop someone else phubbing?

1. Model a better behaviour – I saw this in action when a client of mine was heading a meeting. He started with, “I’m going to put my phone on silent and face it down so you have my full attention.”

Anyone thinking of a sneak peak under the table, stopped eyeing their phones.


2. Call them out – this can seem quite direct. The friend that I referred to above can be quite defensive. However, you could go for, “Oh, I thought we’d have a chat not a swipe,” in a confused tone.

If they still get out their phone, swipe them: round the face. Joke, obviously.

I train in communications not assault.

If they do still reach for the phone, ask if there’s something urgent they need to check. If it’s just Instagram memes, then simply and directly, say “I love chatting to you. Can’t we talk?”

In some cultures, being more direct wouldn’t be considered rude, making asking someone to put their phone away somewhat easier.


3. Distract them – begin with their name, as that’s always the quickest way to gain someone’s attention then ask a question or show them something.


“But I HAVE to check my phone.”

Number 2 above may backfire if you’re speaking to someone who has to check their insulin levels, see if an important message has come through.  So much of our lives is tied to our mobiles.


  • If it’s you that needs to check your phone during a meeting or conversation, then flag it up, if you can’t be discreet about it.
      • Others can’t always see your screen or don’t want to stick their noses into it.  Thus, it’s up to you to ensure others don’t feel that you’re phubbing them: after all, this meeting you’re having right now with them, may be as important as your call.  Tell them that’s what you’re doing beforehand.


  • In situations where someone is constantly looking at their phone, assume best intentions with a question like, “Are you waiting for an urgent message?  Do you want a moment to make a call?”
      • They may tell your exactly what they’re doing, or take you up on the offer.  However, the point is that they will start to realise that you’re noticing where their attention is going.  Obviously, the intonation that you use needs to sound more caring or concerned, otherwise there’s a risk of sounding sarcastic.

Action Step:

      1. Do you have your own way of dealing with being phubbed? Share it in the comments.
      2. Next time you’re phubbed do one of these: model, call out or distract.


Want to discuss how I can help tech teams unlock their communication superpowers?  Maybe you’d like a little help.
Get a free 15 minute Discovery Call here .  Promise not to snub or phub you.

Leave a Comment.

Please note that for privacy reasons your email address is not publicly displayed.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share This: